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How to Process Grief | A Sermon from the Overcome Series

This sermon explores the topic of Grief. What is it? What does the Bible say about it? How can we deal with it? The story of Job gives us some clues about how to sit with someone in grief and how not to sit with someone in grief.

Sermon Manuscript

Lona’s scream pierced my soul.

We knew all day that something was not right. No one had heard from her Dad that day. He was on location in Sacramento, CA running another construction project. His twin brother called him every day to check in. This day there was no answer. Uncle Rowlyn called all the sisters to see if they had heard from him. They had not.

Then the call came.

Ralyn simply didn’t wake up that day. The hotel manager entered into his room to find him lying peacefully in his bed. We spent the next two weeks in a swirling fog of travel arrangements, funeral home consultations, family reunions, service planning, and the beginning of a long journey with grief.

It has been twelve years, but it seems like yesterday.

We come to the fourth of our five topics in the Overcome series this week: Grief.

So…Happy Mother’s Day!

I have to confess that I’ve been whining a little bit, and a little bit stressed out this week. How do you preach on Grief on Mother’s Day? The truth is that while mother’s day is a joyous time for many people, others experience grief over the loss of a mother, the loss of a child, or the loss of ever being able to have a child. Wherever you are today, I hope you will find comfort in these words.

I want to make three moves today:

  1. What is Grief?
  2. What Does the Bible Say about Grief?
  3. What Can We Do About it?

What is Grief?

We all experience it. Grief happens after any type of loss.

It could be a death,

a loss of job,

a move,

a life-transition.

Any time you lose something that you once held dear, you will experience grief.

It is essential to understand that we do not move along the stages in a linear direction or step by step. A person tends to move into stages in a random order and may sometimes even return back to a previous stage after a certain point in time. Each stage can last for a different time period, and it is possible for a person to get stuck in a particular stage and not move on from there. The following are brief descriptions of each of the 5 stages of grief:

Denial: The Stage of shock or denial is usually the first stage in the Kubler-Ross Model and is mostly short-lived. This is a phase during which one puts on a temporary defense mechanism and takes time to process certain disturbing news or reality. One may not want to believe what is happening and that it is happening to him/her. It can bring about a dip in productivity and the ability to think and act. After the initial shock subsides, one may experience denial and may remain focused on the past. Some people tend to remain in the state of denial for a long time and may lose touch with reality.

Anger: When the realization finally hits, and one understands the gravity of the situation, he/she may become angry and may look for someone to blame. Anger can be manifested or expressed in many ways. While some take out the anger on themselves, others may direct it towards others around them. While some may be angry at life in general, others may blame the economy. One always tends to remain irritable, frustrated and short tempered during this stage.

Bargaining: When the stage of anger passes away, one may start thinking about ways to postpone the inevitable and try to find out the best thing left in the situation. Those who are not faced by death but by another trauma may try to negotiate in the situation and come to a point of compromise. Bargaining may help to come to a sustainable solution and might bring some relief to those who are moving close to what they wish to avoid altogether. The search for a different outcome or a less traumatic one may remain on during this stage.

Depression: Depression is a stage in which the person tends to feel sadness, fear, regret, guilt and other negative emotions. He/she may have completely given up by now and may now reach a dead end from where the road only seems dark. One may display signs or indifference, reclusiveness, pushing others away and zero excitement towards anything in life. This may seem like a lowest point in life with no way ahead. Some common signs of depression include sadness, low energy, feeling demotivated, losing trust in god, etc.

Acceptance: When people realize that fighting the change that is coming into their life is not going to make the grief go away, they resign to the situation and accept it completely. The resigned attitude may not be a happy space but is one in which the person may stop resisting change and move ahead with it.

While some people totally resign and go into a deep state of low energy, others may try to make the most of the time left on their hand and explore new opportunities. One has come to a point of peace and is prepared to take one whatever has to follow next.1

So, what does the Bible say?

We chose to read a passage from the Epic Hebrew Poem of Job today. This passage really represents the whole book.

Job is a man who lost everything dear to him in one day. It is safe to say that he is grieving.

He is surrounded by his three friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

We can learn two things from these guys.

First, what to do when someone is grieving, and then what NOT to do when someone is grieving.

Here’s what Job’s friends did right. They sat shiva. That is a Jewish Practice of sitting with a grieving person for seven days without saying anything.

That is the best thing we can do is to say nothing. Just simply be present.

Job’s friends got that part right, but then they opened their mouths. The next thrity chapters of Job is his friends trying to convince Job that his suffering is a the consequence of his sin.

Here’s a little pastoral advice…that’s not a good way to treat someone who is grieving.

So, how should we speak to people who are suffering?

I came across this article from the Sun Times a couple years ago, and it is really helpful.

The article says:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. (kvetching means to complain)

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.2

That is good advice.

Finally, if you are experiencing grief over a loss in your life right now, hear this. It’s OK to grieve. Know that you are loved by God and that God is with you in your pain and loss and will walk with you every step of the way.

Please visit our website to find resources and support groups. Click on Connect, then find the support groups. You can see that there is contact information for Grief support and mental health in general.

  1. from Understanding the Kubler-Ross Change Curve []
  2. from How to Not Say the Wrong Thing []

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